Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Pre-Rehearsal

An Introduction to Janie Dee as the Countess of Rousillon - Janie talks about her transition from dancer to actor and how her visit to Rousillon has informed her ideas on both the play and her character.

Audio placeholder

Time: 13 minutes, 22 seconds

Download (12.2MB, mp3 format)
To download, right click on the link and select 'Save link as'.

Transcript of Podcast

Hayley:

My name is Hayley Bartley and these are the ‘Adopt An Actor Podcasts’ for 2011. I’m here with Janie Dee who plays the Countess of Rousillon in All’s Well That Ends Well. So, my first question is what was your experience of Shakespeare at school?

Janie:

At school I couldn’t understand it. I used to think, instead of reading it, why don’t we stand up and act it because it was a play not a book, and I was always wondering why we didn’t just get up and play it. I don’t really like sitting down, reading much myself anyway, I prefer to stand up and play it. Of course, you do have to spend a moment just reading it, certainly as an actor quietly to yourself, to work out what on earth you’re talking about, but at school I didn’t really know how to understand it and I didn’t have the greatest teachers when I was little to explain it to me. The first time I understood Shakespeare and thought, “Oh! I’m not thick!” was at ‘Hull Truck Theatre’, up in Hull; John Godber’s company doing Twelfth Night and they were so brilliant and they were so relaxed about it. It didn’t sound like a different language, it sounded like the language I speak and the feelings I feel. I could understand and relate to it.

HB:

Well, my next question is how did you first get into acting? Was that around the same time?

JD:

Yes, I was working with Wayne Sleep, as a dancer and singer, and we were doing ballet class every day and singing warm up every day. But you know, if you’re a dancer, you either are an actor and a dancer or you’re just a dancer, but to actually be a performer you have to be to a certain extent an actor anyway, otherwise nothing means anything. And then of course, when you sing a song the words have to be rooted in something which is your feelings. So, you start becoming an actor quite early, I think, from my experience. The next stage for me was how to go from being a singer-dancer to an actress as well and that happened just after I had been working with Wayne. I did Guys and Dolls, playing Sarah Brown up in Manchester at the Library, and that was my first sort of taste of a bit more serious sort of acting.

HB:

So you’ve come from quite a diverse background?

JD:

Yeah, I didn’t go to Drama school, I was a dancer when I was young and I wanted to be a ballerina once, you know, a long time ago. And that was really hard work but it was worth it, you got results, you know. And I remember doing like fouettés on point or my triple pirouettes and all that kind of thing, and then realising after all this blood, sweat and literally tears, that I would still only probably be asked to be in the Corps de Ballet and therefore my heart would not be asked to be expressed as you are as an actor and I have to find a way to express myself. I can’t be a Corp de ballerina and not be allowed to do anything different. That would just kill me. The point was expression, you know. So at that point, I guess I was fifteen or sixteen, that was the beginning of my road to becoming an actor, even though I started off as a dancer. I sort of always knew, once I was in the profession, I would work, work, work, but I would try to make a cross over at some point and it was by singing that I did it.

HB:

Okay, so moving onto the play, what were your impressions with the play coming into rehearsals?

JD:

Well I’d read it twice before we came into rehearsals and started on it a third time. The first time I read it is the one to talk about really, because the first time I read it, I always dread starting to read a Shakespeare play because of that school thing, it’s still in me. Even though I know it can be done brilliantly and very easily and accessibly, but I dread that first moment. I started to read it and within moments I was reading Parolles and Helena discussing virginity, and that conversation was so exciting to me, that somebody had written those words down four hundred years ago. Some words that I would be excited to hear today if somebody said to my daughter, “Why are you holding onto your virginity? Why, why do you think it’s important?” And she says, “Well, I think I should because it’s very precious.” “Is it precious? Well you don’t want to hold onto it too long otherwise you know what happens, nobody will want it.” And he has that discussion with her and I just thought “God! What a guy!” You know, I mean he is a, from the countess’s point of view, he’s a bit of a bad egg, but from my point of view he’s naughty, and brilliant, and comes in from left field about things, and does say things that are true. They may be horrible but they are true. He’s sort of saying “Live your life! Enjoy it, stop being chased and not. You know you want to.” He’s saying, “You know you want to” basically, because she’s madly in love with Bertram when he says to her, “Are you meditating upon virginity?” [I.i] He knows exactly what she’s thinking. She’s full of lust for Bertram as well as love, she’s a good girl. Also the dilemma is, if you are a woman and you do let go, you do give away your virginity, or you do decide to go to bed with somebody that you really fancy and love even, you can get pregnant. That’s the difference and that’s serious. That’s bringing another life into the world and that’s why women do have to think about it. But all this happens to Helena, it’s her story. And the countess, who I play, I think has actually probably been through it, and she’s looking at her and she knows what she’s feeling and she’s sort of even very slightly envious of this young thing, with the rose coloured cheeks and you know. She’s only moments away from that because it goes quite quickly, and you only realise this when you’re older, you know that it goes quite quickly and that moment of being allowed to be in love, it’s so fantastic and you don’t want to take it away from anyone. And she’s also thrilled to bits because her son, she knows that Helena and her son Bertram have some connection, I think she realises there is something there and she’d be thrilled to have a daughter-in-law like Helena, in my opinion. This is the trouble with Shakespeare, it can be interpreted in different ways and I’m finding, in my rehearsals, we’re only at the beginning, but already I have gone in with great enthusiasm because I thought, “I know what that means!” And Giles [Block, Master of Text] who is very learned and really does know what things mean will often say to me, “No, it doesn’t mean that.” And most of the time I will say, “Okay, sorry so what does it mean?” And he’ll tell me, but sometimes I think, “I don’t think he’s right.” Because I can feel, I’ve got to do what I think is right. So we will see what happens, I’m only at the beginning, I’m only on the beginning of the second week. The first week with have only gone through the first half of the play and the second week we’re going through the second half of the play. Next week we will start running bits, but I’ll feel how it feels doing it his way then trying it my way. But some of it is really hard to let go of because I feel so attached to this play, because it is about the dilemma of a woman who wants to be in love. She wants to love, she wants to let all her feelings out and not be treated like some sort of cheap thing. I mean in this play she is considered lower rank anyway, so she’s got that to fight, and also Bertram thinks of her as that and is worried and scared of it, but I don’t really look at their parts as much as mine so I can only talk about the Countess.

HB:

What were your initial impressions then of your character?

JD:

Of the Countess? Well I thought she seemed a bit nice, you know I better be careful of that. She’s very understanding, and wise, and helpful, and angry when things go wrong. I think I’ve got a hook into something else about her now, which I won’t say today because I don’t want to give it away yet, but I think she hasn’t always been the woman that she seems, I think she’s had quite a colourful time and I think that’s why she understands Helena and why she gets cross when Bertram says “no”. HB: Yes, because why else would she have that relationship with Helena, who is far lower status? Why is she so attached? JD: Well partly because Gerard De Narbon was Helena’s farther and Gerard De Narbon was the best of his kind, he was a great doctor. She says, “He would have given death play for lack of work” [I.i]. In other words he could have stopped people dying all the time; death wouldn’t have had a job. He was brilliant and she hopes that Helena will also follow in his footsteps, which she does, she becomes the person who cures the King. So she has looked after Helena and made sure that she does get a chance to follow that line of Healers. It’s quite a spiritual play as well, that existence of healing in the play. It really exists, it exists through Helena and it exists through a memory of her father, as something that was “more than just medicine” as Helena says, more than just medicine, there’s a spirit. And she keeps all of us alive, as all our characters, that there is that element to remember and that is so important in life now. What I love about the play is I can relate to all of it right now. There’s a lot of soldier scenes which once upon a time I would of thought, “Oh no, soldiers talking to each other”, but I’m interested, what are soldiers saying to each other? Because there are a lot of soldiers in our lives right now, if you look around the world at what’s happening. This is what we find. It makes me wonder if we have changed at all in some ways.

HB:

Do you do any kind of research before rehearsals, or do you just do the read through and then go into it with a blank canvas?

JD:

I keep blank canvas until I’ve read it once and then I start finding things out. I mean I’ve been looking at Rousillon; Rousillon is in the Pyrenees and it’s rustic and I know that area, sort of, because my parents live in France. I’ve seen the oldie – You know some of these castles on the hills are ancient, sort of three hundred, four hundred years, so they would have been living somewhere a bit like that, on a hill, in a castle. And in France, of course, and in Italy counts and countess’ are much more common than here. So to us countess sounds terribly posh, I’m not sure it means quite the same thing in France, I’m there to investigate that actually now, to see how very, very, posh and regal do you need her to be. I mean I’ll be as regal she needs to be, but she seems to me to be quite an earthy woman so I don’t want to negate that from her if that’s what he intended, Shakespeare, if he intended I want to give him that. So Rousillon seems to me, it’s not Paris, it’s not the big metropolitan city, it is Rousillon. And even the name Rousillon, rustic, kind of ready, rustic, rusty coloured, and it is, some of the earth down there is very red. I went on a long drive with my husband and found this amazing sort of clay earth further down that way, which is red. So some of my costumes are sort of rusty coloured, with the black on top because she is still in mourning for her husband of course. I get this feeling that she is sort of earthy and Rousillon, he brought that country into the city. Because country people coming up to the city think they need to be posher than they are, they think it is much more important to be in the city, not everybody, I mean some country folk are terribly posh. But there is a sort of importance given to London in our country and to Paris in theirs. Bertram’s going to serve the King and there’s no question that he has to go because it will be a great education for him, but also without question he’s going to have to fight at some point, I think she knows that. As you can see I’m very excited about it and I am looking at that place and thinking about it. I don’t know how much more research I can do, etiquette I suppose is something I would like to know more about in that time, how did they behave that isn’t like us today. You know when I came here last year and saw the Scottish Play [Macbeth, 2010], which was so fantastic, by Lucy Bailey, I related to them because they didn’t behave in a way that was different to us. You know and I think that if one can capture things that are alike then it’s easier to relate for the audience, you know, who are a lot of them not only listening to the slightly different language of English but listening to a different language because so many people who are foreign come here.

HB:

My last question is just about the beginning of rehearsals, so your first day feelings, I suppose you have not worked here before so how did you feel first coming in, the 'Meet and Greet'?

JD:

Just the walk here, over the Millennium Bridge, the Tate Modern, Globe; that’s a wonderful prologue to your day. It’s wonderful, it’s an absolute pleasure. And then coming into the building there’s somebody smiling at me before I had a chance to think, “Where am I going.” “Hello, are you Janie? “Yes.” “Okay, come with me.”And up we went and then this beautiful room where we were all introduced to each other, had coffee and met Dominic Dromgoole [Artistic Director] for the first time. We had a nice chat and then he did his big speech to everybody and then we all introduced ourselves and that was fun and lots of humour around the place and so many people working alongside each project. I mean I’ve been in theatre for something like thirty years now so I’ve seen both sides of it, if you can call it both sides. All areas, I mean I’ve seen all areas of theatre: from the thing you put on yourself in your back room; to the fringe venue where you have to iron your own clothes and do all that; to the rep theatre, like this but smaller scale; to West End. And also Shakespeare, having come from the school girl who didn’t know what it was about, didn’t get it and thought, “Oh God! Here we go.”I’ve done a complete u-turn, I understand it now. And I understand when Dominic [Dromgoole] said all the words from the Bible, that we know, the King James version, all that language was Shakespeare’s sort of inspiration, he would have been using that language. So there is a spiritual element anyway to Shakespeare, which I’ve always felt, maybe that was thing the thing that I couldn’t feel at school because it was taught as a thing you had to learn. It doesn’t ever feel like it does an actor where your appeal to a spiritual being as well as someone who can say the words.

Back to top

ADD YOUR THOUGHTS TO THE CONVERSation

We welcome your opinions. This is a public forum. Libellous and abusive comments are not allowed. Please read our Forum Rules.